INDIANAPOLIS — The short 2020 session started at a fast pace, with more than two dozen bills getting committee hearings in two separate committees on the first day.

“We’re very pleased to hit the ground running today,” House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Monday. “It’s going to be a very productive, very fast session with nine-and-a-half weeks to accomplish our work.”

Bosma and Senate Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, both have highly anticipated bills in their chambers to hold teachers and schools harmless from poor ILEARN test scores. The Senate’s education committee heard proposals Monday afternoon while House members will hear a similar bill in committee Tuesday morning.

Both Republican leaders promised in the fall to pass bills holding educators harmless.

Holding teachers harmless was one of the three rallying points for the thousands of teachers who came to the Statehouse in November. Additional demands, for higher pay and repealing the required 15-hour externship for teacher, have their own bills.

For Bosma, these bills placed more emphasis on local control, allowing school districts to create their own teacher salaries and requirements, such as externships, in addition to deciding whether student test scores should affect teacher evaluations.

“We’re not taking that opportunity away; we’re just taking the semblance that it’s a mandate away,” Bosma said about the externship. “We’re counting on local school boards to take advantage of those options.”

With revenues exceeding projections, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb asked legislators to dedicate funds to one-time capital improvement projects for higher education, including funding for the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital, Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus Campus and Indiana State University.

Republicans say paying in cash, rather than bonds, could free up more than $130 million for taxpayers.

“It’s my hope that those funds would free up $22 (million) to $25 million per year (so) that we have additional funds to talk about education funding in the future,” Bosma said.

For health care, leaders highlight two major bills: eliminating “surprise, out-of-network billing” and a payer claims database for consumers to price shop future procedures.

“I don’t pretend to be naive enough to think that’s going to fix this complex problem,” Bray said. “Our idea … was let’s find some low-hanging fruit that we can work on right now that will make a difference.”

Raising the minimum required age to purchase tobacco passed on the federal level at the end of last year but state leaders want to protect the law in Indiana while negotiating a potential increase in fines for selling to underaged users.

Off to a fast pace, the session shows no signs of slowing down. This first week includes 11 more committee hearings, averaging about a dozen bills each. Bills yet to be heard include marijuana decriminalization, township reformation, the prohibition of flavored e-liquids and redistricting the state following the 2020 census.

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